Dung — what could be more natural?

Dung — a natural history is almost there. The typescript has been delivered to the publishers. We have a cover concept. We have most of the illustrations. Finding pictures to illustrate the book has been fun. There will be an identification guide to dung users; mostly beetles and flies, but a fair few oddities in there too. And there will be a field guide to the dung parcels themselves. I’m not a very good artist, but after sketching quite a number of animals’ pellets and deposits, I now regard myself king of the stipple. Verity has come to the rescue on some of the more challenging pats — those with more subtle sheens and textures. She has also painted some of the more obscure dung beetles.

Most of the pictures I have been able to find in old books. These are often exquisite engravings, perfect for the job, but out of copyright — so free to use. And it was whilst I was leafing through Bewick’s A general history of quadrupeds (originally published 1790) that I came across these superb illustrations.

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A fine cow and obligatory pat.

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When was the last time you saw a picture of a defaecating dog in a children’s book?

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Yes, A general history of quadrupeds was intended as a book for children.

There can be no doubt what this chap’s up to. The smoke from the charcoal oven and from his pipe clearly indicates which way the wind is blowing. And the woman is not holding her hat on against the wind, she is quite clearly holding her nose.

And, in case you’re interested, that means the dung beetles will soon fly in from stage left too, flying up-wind into the plume of volatiles which include tasty signals like skatole, phenol and 2-butanone.

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